Sunday, August 2, 2009

New school, same old problems

Above, teacher and students at Abela school, attended by LRA leader Joseph Kony. At left, the sacred rock moutain visited each year by Kony and/or his soldiers, and the source of his magical holy water. Peter Eichstaedt photos.
The U.S. Army's Africa Command, AFRICOM, posted a a notice recently about the $180,000 renovation of a school in rebel leader Joseph Kony's home town of Odek.
The press release came via the U.S. embassy in Kampala, with a Gulu dateline, and featured photos Walter Ochora, a Gulu governmental official, some of the 750 children who attend the school.
I visited Odek when I was researching First Kill Your Family, and had a long talk with one of Kony's childhood friends. While Kony may have attended school in Odek, he also attended a school about 15 kilometers away called Abela, which I also visited more recently in 2008.
Abela was not far from Kony's sacred mountain, a place where gathered herbs as young witchdoctor, and which oozed "holy" water. Everyone said that Kony returned once a year to this rock outcropping, called a koppe and a typical feature of east Africa. If Kony didn't come in person, he send a small unit there to collect the sacred water and take it back to wherever he was.

No one knows precisely where Kony and his ruthless Lord's Resistance Army are these days, best guesses are he's in the forbidding forest in the northeastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Kony and his army of child soldiers continues to kill and kidnap at will in that remote corner of the world, just has they have done for the past several years despite the failed attack on his forces last December.
That attack, as we all know, was the result of the combined efforts of America's AFRICOM and their best friend in the region, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni and his Uganda People's Defense Forces.
Word of the renovated school in Odek points to the destruction that Kony left behind, and to the massive amount of work that needs to be done to rebuild northern Uganda -- if Uganda does not want to face yet another bloody rebellion.
While the Odek school is a sparking example of what can be done, there are hundreds and hundreds more across northern Uganda that need immediate attention. The Ugandan government has been painfully slow, if not intentionally so, in fulfilling its promises millions of dollars in aid for the north. The world is watching and northern Uganda is waiting.
There's a pattern here.

The Odek school reflects what else Uganda has failed to do regarding Kony and his murderous horde. The recent visit to Uganda by Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, was a sharp reminder of Uganda's failure to bring Kony to justice and to put an end to the LRA.
Museveni, after all, was the man who first went to the ICC way back in 2003, in an effort to garner international help in corralling Kony. While that help came, it did not relieve Uganda of its primary responsibility to capture Kony.
Moreno-Ocampo's visit also was well-timed since Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir was planning to visit Kampala days later -- and man who also has been indicted by the ICC.
Moreno-Ocampo's presence, if not this blunt words in private, warned Museveni that if he wanted to have any respect on the international stage, he has to show some backbone and live up to his commitments. This includes not only the capture of Kony, rebuilding of northern Uganda, but also the arrest of al-Bashir.
Al-Bashir quietly declined to travel to Kampala, and one can only imagine the back-channel phones calls that prompted al-Bashir's decision to stay home. One could almost hear Uganda's collective sigh of relief.
But life is never simple. And for Museveni, it's getting more complex. Look at Somalia. While playing regional power broker and darling of the West, he has about 2,000 soldiers trying to keep a lid on the chaos in Mogadishu as the primary force for the African Union there.
Uganda has wedged itself into tight place by in reality being the proxy force for the West (U.S), as the Somalia's Transitional Federal Government tries to hold off the surging fundamentalists fighters of the al-Shabab (The Youth) movement.
To say that Uganda is overstretched is probably an understatement. The problem is that Uganda seems to be everywhere, but not accomplishing anything no matter where it is. The question is, how long can Uganda maintain this charade before they're forced to produce results?